Children Undergo Life-Changing Spinal Surgery | Western Cape Government



Children Undergo Life-Changing Spinal Surgery

21 February 2013

The father of an 18-month-old baby girl battled to find help for his daughter. The girl, Layla, was born in East London with a spinal deformity that could have led to paralysis if left unattended.

Davide di Raffaele, Layla’s father, sought the advice of several doctors but was repeatedly told there was no hope.

"One of the doctors said I would just have to accept that Layla would be a hunchback," Di Raffaele said.

An internet search by Di Raffaele led him to Surgeon Prof. Robert Dunn, the Head of Orthopaedic Spinal Services at Groote Schuur Hospital. A series emails between them ended with Layla being admitted to Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital on 17 January 2013. She underwent traction (the stretching of her limbs) to prepare her for surgery. Two weeks later, the successful surgery to decompress her neck vertebrae took place.

Prof. Dunn, said: "Layla di Raffaele was born with underdeveloped vertebrae in her neck."

The spinal compression made it impossible for her to crawl or sit. Layla moved around by sliding on her back.

Professor Dunn is my hero, Di Raffaele said. "He gave my baby a neck. I am so thankful to all the theatre staff that made Layla’s stay so comfortable. I am forever grateful." 

Another grateful parent is Shameega Williams of Summer Greens. Her 10-year-old son was born with progressive scoliosis.

Williams noticed her son Shakil had a skew posture. The family sought medical advice and were referred to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

Dr Stewart Dix-Peek, Head of Paediatric Orthopaedics at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, said: "Shakil was born with an abnormally developed spine."

Shakil"s scoliosis was caused by an extra, partial lumbar vertebra. Left untreated, the curvature would have become worse and this would make it more risky to operate. On 8 February 2013, the surgeons infused four screws in his spine to correct the scoliosis.

He would have had life-long difficulty in walking had he not undergone surgery to correct the worsening side-to-side curvature of his spine.

Shakil's father, Shiraz Williams, said:"‘We are very happy that Shakil could get this surgery at such a young age."

"Shakil would like to thank Professor Dunn, Doctor Held, the rest of the team and the nursing staff of Ward D1 and ICU for taking such good care of him. Because of this surgery, Shakil will be a normal boy. We, his parents, will be forever grateful for the awesome work done."

Dr Linda, CEO of Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, said: "Professor Dunn is a well-renowned and refined spinal surgeon, well-recognised nationally and internationally for his expertise in corrective surgery for spinal defects and injuries. He has improved the quality of life for many children and adults in South Africa and beyond. He and his team add value to the highly specialised skilled personnel of Groote Schuur Hospital and Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital."

Western Cape Health Minister Theuns Botha said; "The Western Cape Government is very proud to have a world class hospital like Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in its midst and will do everything possible to keep and develop the unique medical skills and competency in this hospital to the benefit of all South Africa's children."

Media Enquiries: 


Lauren O’Connor-May
Communications Officer: Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital
Western Cape Government Health
Tel: 021 658 5448
Cell:  084 568 1413